Cologne's iconic Dom has twin towers that might as well be exclamation marks after the word 'welcome'. Flowing behind the cathedral, the Rhine provides a vital link for some of the region's highlights – Düsseldorf, with its great nightlife, architecture and shopping; and Bonn, the former capital, which hums to Beethoven. Away from the river, Aachen still echoes to the beat of the Holy Roman Empire and Charlemagne.
Much of Germany's 20th-century economic might stemmed from the northern Rhineland industrial region known as the Ruhrgebiet. Now that the mines are closed and the steelworks are silent, cities such as Essen and Bochum are transforming them into progressive cultural playgrounds. Dortmund is literally scoring with its Bundesliga (Premier League) football team, the national soccer museum and beer making tradition. In the flat northern reaches, Xanten's archaeological excavations bring Roman history to life, while Münster is an endlessly interesting and vibrant student town.